The Constitutional Convention in 1787 used the Virginia Plan as the basis for discussions, as the Virginia delegation had proposed it first.
The Virginia Plan called for the Congress to elect the President.
Delegates from a majority of states agreed to this mode of election.
However, the Committee of Eleven, formed to work out various details including the mode of election of the President, recommended instead that the election be by a group of people apportioned among the states in the same numbers as their representatives in Congress (the formula for which had been resolved in lengthy debates resulting in the Connecticut Compromise and Three-fifths compromise), but chosen by each state “in such manner as its Legislature may direct.”
Committee member Gouverneur Morris explained the reasons for the change; among others, there were fears of “intrigue” if the President was chosen by a small group of men who met together regularly, as well as concerns for the independence of the President if he was elected by the Congress.
Some delegates, including James Wilson and James Madison, preferred popular election of the executive.
Madison acknowledged that while a popular vote would be ideal, it would be difficult to get consensus on the proposal given the prevalence of slavery in the South:
There was one difficulty however of a serious nature attending an immediate choice by the people. The right of suffrage was much more diffusive in the Northern than the Southern States; and the latter could have no influence in the election on the score of Negroes. The substitution of electors obviated this difficulty and seemed on the whole to be liable to the fewest objections.
The Convention approved the Committee’s Electoral College proposal, with minor modifications, on September 6, 1787.
Delegates from the small states generally favored the Electoral College out of concern that the large states would otherwise control presidential elections.
Thus the design of the Electoral College was based upon several assumptions and anticipations of the Framers of the Constitution:
Each state would employ the district system of allocating electors.
Each presidential elector would exercise independent judgment when voting.
Candidates would not pair together on the same ticket with assumed placements toward each office of President and Vice President.
The system as designed would rarely produce a winner, thus sending the election to Congress.
On these facts, some scholars have described the Electoral College as being intended to nominate candidates from which the Congress would then select a President and Vice President. However, each state government is free to have its own plan for selecting its electors.
The United States presidential election of 1788–1789 was held from Monday, December 15, 1788 to Saturday, January 10, 1789.
In this election, George Washington received 100% of the 38,818 votes cast.
It was the first presidential election in the United States of America under the new United States Constitution, which was adopted on September 17, 1787, and the only election to ever take place partially in a year that is not a multiple of four.
Before this election, the United States had no chief executive.
Under the previous system agreed to under Articles of Confederation, the national government was headed by the Confederation Congress, which had a ceremonial presiding officer and several executive departments, but no independent executive branch.
The enormously popular George Washington essentially ran unopposed.
The only real issue to be decided was who would be chosen as vice-president.
Under the system then in place, each elector cast votes for two persons; if a person received a vote from a majority of the electors, that person became president, and the runner-up became vice-president.
The Twelfth Amendment, ratified in 1804, would change this procedure, requiring each elector to cast distinct votes for president and vice-president.
Of course it is important to realize that no political parties existed at the time of the 1788–89 presidential election.
Candidates were either Federalists, meaning they supported the ratification of the Constitution, or Anti-Federalists, meaning they opposed ratification. These groups were not established political parties, however, and were united in supporting Washington for president.
In the absence of conventions, there was also no formal nomination process.
The framers of the Constitution had presumed that George Washington would be the first president, and once he agreed to come out of retirement to accept the office, there was no opposition to him.
The real question was who would assume the office of vice-president, which under the system then in place went to the runner-up in the Presidential election.
Because Washington was from Virginia, many assumed that a vice-president would be chosen from one of the northern states to ease sectional tensions.
In an August 1788 letter, U.S. Minister to France Thomas Jefferson wrote that he considered John Adams and John Hancock to be the top contenders, with John Jay, James Madison, and John Rutledge as other possible candidates.
Electors were selected by the individual states, and all 69 electors cast one vote for George Washington.
The electors then used their other votes to cast a scattering of votes among eleven other candidates for vice-president, many voting for someone besides John Adams. This was due largely to a scheme perpetrated by Alexander Hamilton, who feared that Adams would tie with Washington, throwing the election to the House of Representatives and embarrassing Washington and the new Constitution.
Thus, John Adams received only 34 of 69 votes, becoming the first vice-president.
Only ten states out of the original thirteen cast electoral votes in this election.
North Carolina and Rhode Island were ineligible to participate as they had not yet ratified the United States Constitution.
New York failed to appoint its allotment of eight electors because of a deadlock in the state legislature.
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